...It’s never a good sign when the most striking thing about a record is its cover.
Richard Banks 2007
The Hours are Antony Genn and Martin Slattery and as musicians go, they’ve been around the block. Genn played guitar for Pulp, toured Europe with Elastica and produced albums for Joe Strummer and Grace Jones (quite the glittering CV, Antony). He also lived with Robbie Williams for a while, and lost teeth to a crack and heroin habit (thanks for coming in, Ant; we’ll definitely give you a call if something comes up).
Slattery’s background is equally varied, having begun life as a promising jazz prodigy before playing keys with Black Grape and Strummer’s Mescaleros. When their paths crossed at a Radiohead gig in 2004, they decided to form a band of their own. With their combined experience, things looked promising.
Their debut, Narcissus Road, is full of this early promise, and gets off to a belter with first single, “Ali In The Jungle”. Inspired by legends that never knew when they were beat - Nelson Mandela, Mohammed Ali and, of course, Beethoven - it’s a spiky, stirring start. “It’s the greatest comeback since Lazarus,” sings Genn, sounding uncannily like James Dean Bradfield. Sadly, it’s downhill from here, and the record never really delivers.
Follow-up single “Back When You Were Good” is an England football anthem in the making, for all the wrong reasons. Apt title aside, its plodding pace, banal lyrics and chiming piano riff manage to evoke both “Chariots Of Fire” and “All Together Now”, which is quite a feat. Suddenly, Embrace sound pretty groundbreaking.
Talented multi-instrumentalist he may be, but Martin Slattery’s conservatively clean piano chords really start to grate after a while. Had he and Genn spared some of the bile on “Ali…” and “Love You Better” for the rest of the album, results might have been better. Instead, we’re treated to a number of docile and directionless dirges which regularly top the five minute mark. Of these, only “I Need To Know” is worthy of note. Its sparse strut builds gradually, accented with punk funk guitar stabs, before morphing into a brooding doom-ballad, when Thom Yorke’s influence really shines through.
The incongruously garish artwork here comes courtesy of Damien Hirst, who also helped fund the album’s recording. But Hirst is no Andy Warhol, The Hours aren’t a patch on the Velvet Underground, and it’s never a good sign when the most striking thing about a record is its cover.